Goals are guides to get you moving.

This is one of those lessons that it first and foremost on my mind right now, largely because I’m a month into 50-for-50 and, despite my well laid out plans and my devotion to the task, I am already finding myself impossibly behind.

Why? Three reasons:

  1. I over estimated what I could do in a given week.
  2. My goals and the schedules of people they involve might not align.
  3. Life circumstances can change rapidly.

Let me unpack both of those and let you know why I’m not freaking out about it.

Welcome to 50-for-50. This post is part of a collection of 50 things I’m doing involving the number 5 to celebrate my 50th trip around the sun. Over the next year, I will highlight 50 lessons from my life that have the greatest impact on who I am today. You can read all 50 lessons here or sign up for a full 50-for-50 weekly recaps here.

Goals are guides to get you going.
Even the most carefully laid out goals are guides to get you moving. – Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash

I’m Not Superhuman

When I set out to do my 50-for-50, I made a classic mistake. I assumed I can do far more in any given day than I could reasonably do and I assumed every day would go smoothly.

I didn’t think about the fact that upping my workouts would take more energy from mean, lead to me needing more sleep, or having to spend more time prepping food because I’d be consuming that much more.

While I’d been on an impressive writing streak over at Manhood Reimagined, I assumed I could keep it up and would be able to add a couple articles a week on other topics I enjoyed.

I ignored the fact that I’m now a full-time single dad and my kid would require more of my time.

In short, I assumed that I am superhuman. I’m not.

Just Because It’s My Goal Doesn’t Make It Yours

The easiest example here is my goal of doing 50 sit down dinners with my 17 year old who goes to school full-time and works full-time. On the typical week, there are two evenings where a sit down dinner is possible. One of those night is the same night as the weekly Scout meeting. That means there is one evening a week to hang out with friends and have dinner with me. Guess which one is the priority?

Something similar can happen with every person who is tied to you completing your goals.

Life Is Ever Evolving

When I set out to do my 50-for-50 life was different than it is today:

  • I thought I could easily add running back into my life. After a couple runs, I realized that my form, foot core strength, and upper leg muscle balance is all out of wack and I need to be more intentional about getting my body ready for distance running so I can take on the Mendocino Ultra in April.
  • My day job had me in a spot where there was often flexibility in my day. I needed to be at a certain place at certain times, but there wasn’t always something to do. I used that time to read or move projects forward. But that is changing and it looks like my role might be shifting back to one that is less place centered and but more task demanding.
  • Within an hour a couple weeks ago I received two messages letting me know that significant people in my life are going to need more from me in the coming weeks and months. This care demands a shift in how I spend my time.
  • Soul has made it clear that I have a couple specific things I need to work on in the coming months, things that don’t fit within my goals, but will take a significant amount of time and need to be addressed now for me to move forward well.

The point is, all of these things, in one way or another, force me to adapt how I spend my time. How I spend the time I have directly impacts my ability to accomplish my goals. In this case, even if they were realistic to start with, there is no way I could get everything done in the time I have.

Possible Paths Forward

So what are the possible paths forward? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Buckle down, try harder, sleep less.
  • Don’t bother with goals in the first place.
  • Adapt to make the goals more achievable.
  • Let the goals be guides.

If what matters most is getting to put a checkmark next to a completed goal, this might be what you are tempted to do. But is finishing a goal so important to you that you are willing to risk your sleep or sanity? If so, it might be time to re-evaluate what is most important in life.

Going to the other extreme and not setting any goals sounds freeing, but in many ways sets you up to drift. It makes it easy to get caught up in a life of comfortably numb conformity.

Adapting for achievability sounds good, but there are two problems with it. One, if I know I can achieve the goal, then it’s not really pushing me to get better. Two, it makes achieving the goals the most important thing (and that is rarely the case).

So that leaves us with letting goals be guides.

Goals Are Guides (But Hold Them Lightly)

When I put my 50-for-50 goals together, there were two bigger ideals in mind:

  1. To make the whole thing playful and fun.
  2. To set myself up to have the most meaningful year of my life yet.

If I get obsessed with checking every box, I can assure you that things will not feel very playful when I reach my 50th birthday next November.

Perhaps more importantly, I put these goals together between June and October of 2023, days where I only had a hindsight perspective on what would create the most meaningful year of life come October 31, 2024.

This doesn’t neglect the value of my previous 48.5 years of experience, but it does ignore the part of that experience that has me ever learning and evolving. So there is nothing wrong with setting goals, doing my best to keep them, pivot as life unfolds, and hold onto all of it loosely.

In other words, the goals remain valuable, challenging, and broadly worth-while, but they are catalysts to inspire movement and to keep me asking the questions that really matter:

  • Am I having fun with this?
  • Is this leading me towards the most meaningful year of life yet?

So what goals are guiding you?

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